PI Original Ellyn Fortino Thursday September 17th, 2015, 5:03pm

Child Advocacy Group: Critical State Services Are Deteriorating During Illinois Budget Impasse

A new report from the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children details the negative impacts of the state budget impasse on important services.

Assistance for victims of violent crimes. Services for homeless youth. Aid to public colleges and universities.

Those are among the casualties of the state's budget impasse, which is now in its third month.

A report issued Tuesday by a prominent Illinois child advocacy organization provides a clearer understanding of what state services are, and are not, being funded as lawmakers and the governor continue their monthslong battle over a budget for the 2016 fiscal year that began on July 1.

"While some services are being partially funded as a result of court orders or the availability of federal dollars, the lack of state appropriations has resulted in the deterioration -- and in a growing number of cases, the elimination -- of critical services for children, families and communities," reads the report from the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children.

The organization highlights over 60 services and programs that are being impacted because the state is not authorized to fund them without a budget in place.

Federal "pass-through" dollars for certain services in Illinois have been released. But that money covers only a small part of the budgets for a number programs that provide HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, breast and cervical cancer screenings, child care assistance and many other services.

Lisa Christensen Gee with the Fiscal Policy Center at Voices for Illinois Children said the state's lack of "a fully funded, year-long budget" is causing "widespread damage" to the state.

"Our state's most vulnerable people, including children, people with disabilities, and seniors, are especially threatened by this inaction," she writes in the report.

Here's a look at some of the wide-ranging impacts of the budget impasse, as detailed in the report: 16 Teen Reach after school programs have closed, affecting over 1,500 youth; the state's conservation police officer force has been reduced by a third; the Epilepsy Resource Center in Springfield and a substance abuse treatment facility in Cairo have closed; public transit services for school children and seniors in the cities of Waterloo, Red Bud, and Sparta have been eliminated because the area's transit district was closed; and half of the state's 97 soil and water conservation districts are expected to close by the end of September.

Service providers overall are facing layoffs, program reductions and pending closures.

For example, the state's only sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) prevention provider has been forced to eliminate all but one staff member.

Lisle-based SIDS of Illinois had to cut its five contracted educators, who did SIDS prevention training and delivered low-cost, portable cribs to families in need, among other services.

SIDS of Illinois Executive Director Nancy Maruyama is the only employee currently at the organization, which depends on state funding for 70 percent of its annual budget.

Families are no longer getting cribs from the SIDS prevention program, because SIDS of Illinois does not have the money to purchase them.

Maruyama, who is drawing her salary from the group's reserves, is providing as much educational outreach, bereavement support and other services as she can on her own, on top of handling administrative duties.

"I am already putting in 12 hour days, and I still can't stay caught up," she said.

If the budget stalemate continues much longer, Maruyama said SIDS of Illinois could be forced to close its doors.

"I can't bear the thought of this organization having to close, because it was built on the back of bereaved parents," she said. "I cannot let this go down. I won't let it go down without a fight."

Maruyama urged Democratic leaders and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner to reach a budget agreement.

"Work this out," she stressed. "How many babies have to die before this gets straightened out?"

A state program that provides services for families with young children with diagnosed disabilities or developmental delays is also among those that have taken a hit during the budget impasse. The report shows that Early Intervention providers got fiscal year 2016 contracts, but they haven't been paid because of the state's lack of an enacted budget.

At least four Early Intervention Child and Family Connection agencies could close their doors this month if they don't get their state funding, the advocacy group says. If that happens, services for 4,000 families as well as new program participants would be disrupted, and 97 staffers would be out of work, according to the report.

One day after the Fiscal Policy Center released its report, however, Illinois Comptroller Leslie Munger said the state will start making payments to Early Intervention providers.

Early Intervention services should have been covered under an active consent decree requiring payments to providers during the budget impasse, but the comptroller's office said it recently learned that the services were "slipping through the cracks" of that requirement.

"I know the tremendous benefits that Early Intervention services can provide to our delayed and disabled infants and toddlers, and I was extremely concerned when I learned many providers would likely be suspending their vital therapeutic services at the end of this month," Munger said in a news release Wednesday. "My office is working today to set up the accounts and we will immediately begin making payments to Early Intervention providers as soon as we receive vouchers from DHS so we can avoid further hardships."

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